When California contractor Steve Fenton’s estranged wife took their 6-year-old son to southern Mexico and announced they weren’t coming back, Fenton tried unsuccessfully for months to use lawyers and diplomats on both sides of the border to bring his boy home.
After being awarded custody, and with kidnapping charges pending against his wife, Fenton sought to use an international treaty called the Hague Convention to recover his son.
Mexico is a party to the treaty, which requires the speedy return of a child to his “habitual residence.” Yet every effort to recover the child under terms of the treaty was thwarted by Mexican officials.
According to the U.S. State Department, Mexico has one of the worst records of any nation in responding to child custody petitions and routinely thumbs its nose at international appeals.
After 16 months, when it finally became clear that legal channels would never bring his son Stephen home, Fenton took matters into his own hands. He hired a “specialist” who has recovered abducted children from all over the world. In broad daylight they stopped a school bus and recovered the boy. Changing cars in a race across town, they made it to an airstrip where a single-engine plane was waiting.
Minutes ahead of authorities, they flew out of southern Mexico on a false flight plan that had them headed to south. After turning off the plane’s transponder, they flew out over the Gulf of Mexico and turned north toward Brownsville, Texas.
Mexico apparently can move quickly when it wants to and shortly after the plane touched down in Brownsville, Fenton and his son were detained by the FBI. A Mexican consular official soon showed up to demand the boy’s return.
The diplomat claimed the boy’s American birth certificate and California custody orders were false and demanded the child be returned to Mexico. The official also asked the FBI to hold Fenton for extradition on kidnapping, assault, firearms and air piracy charges, claiming automatic weapons were used to attack the school bus.
This the story of the recovery, of useless government bureaucrats on both sides of the border, and how the father, son and his then-fugitive mother coped with the aftermath.